Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (written, directed and starring Tyler Perry as Madea) continues the very successful Madea franchise, featuring Mabel (Madea) Simmons, a scrappy 70 year old African American grandmother who’s done all her life what she needed to in order to survive. As often the case in the Madea movies, she’s not necessarily the central character at the beginning of the film though she becomes more important as the movie progresses.

Also endearing in these movies is that even if often presented with exaggeration, the movies deal with real pain and real issues. In the opening scene in this movie, Madea’s niece Shirley (played by Loretta Divine) is told by her doctor, Dr Evans (played by Philip-Anthony Rodriguez) that her cancer has returned and this this time it was much more aggressive than before. Shirley wants to get her three children and their families together to tell them the sad news. This simple desire proves heartrendingly difficult to realize as Shirley’s adult and soon to be adult children are absorbed in their own lives, resentments and with their own demons:

Daughter Tammy (played by Natalie Desselle) is disappointed with her honest but modest auto-mechanic husband Harold (played by Rodney Perry). Their constant fighting makes it difficult for either of them to control their two soon to be teenage sons.

Second daughter Kimberly (played by Shannon Kane) has moved "uptown" and resents her simpler, "more ghetto" relatives. She even harps on her husband Calvin (played by Isaiah Mustafa) even though he appears to be the "perfect" for her – good looking, financially successful, a _nice guy_ and seemingly utterly devoted to her. Still, she can’t be happy.  (The reason why becomes revealed later in the movie and makes one cry).

Finally, there’s the 18 year old son Byron (played by Bow Bow) who’s already spent time in jail and fathered a child with a similarly young ex-girlfriend, Sabrina (played by Teyana Taylor). Sabrina turns out to be a gum-chewing, fast food restaurant working "baby mama from hell." But even though the two _don’t_ live together "he did make his bed," (Byron’s created a child) and so he’s got to live with the financial obligations and consequences. Byron’s new "high maintenance" girlfriend Renee (played by Lauren London) presents her own problems.

After several heartrending attempts by soft-spoken Shirley to get this family together for dinner to that she could them the news, "super ghetto" Madea increasingly takes over to knock some sense into Shirley’s kids so that she could do finally so, AND EVEN MADEA IS ONLY _PARTLY_ SUCCESSFUL.

Critics have complained that Tyler Perry exaggerates his characters too much. I can tell readers _without reservation_ that family dysfunction and resentment approaching the level presented here both _definitely exists_ and _definitely transcends ethnicity_. Consider simply that the recent South Korean movie "Shi" ("Poetry") about a grandmother raising an utterly clueless and ungrateful grandson for her daughter touches on almost exactly the same themes and arguably with even more brutal honesty. But obviously both parish life and even human life is filled with similar examples of people too absorbed in their own issues to see what’s going on even with loved ones around them. (Both the just and just ask Jesus at the Last Judgement "when did we see you [in need]?" Matthew 25:31-46).

Madea's Big Happy Family is probably not for little kids (because they probably wouldn’t get it) and but for teens and above I do believe the movie is excellent (the movie is IMHO appropriately rated PG-13, with multiple exaggerated references to drug use and some bleeped profanity), reminding us that we do have a duty to wake-up and care for those around us. God bless you Tyler Perry for giving us a tough message in the same way that Robin Williams often has – with a smile.

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